Tufts enters NESCAC tournament seeded second

Senior forward Gaston Becherano passes the ball to his teammate in the game against Williams on Oct. 22. (Zach Sebek / The Tufts Daily)

The Jumbos closed out the regular season with a loss to the Bowdoin Polar Bears on Tuesday, finishing with a conference record of 6-2-2. Nationally ranked No. 19, Tufts enters Saturday’s NESCAC tournament as the second seed to No. 4 Amherst (8-1-1). Tufts overcame Williams (6-3-1) on Saturday in a hard-fought 1-0 contest to maintain its lead over Williams in the NESCAC standings. On Oct. 19, the Jumbos won by four goals, their largest margin so far this season, over the Keene State Owls.

Against the Polar Bears, the Jumbos were the aggressor, taking 20 shots compared to a mere five from the Polar Bears. Bowdoin senior goalkeeper Noah Safian was forced to make 10 saves, while his Tufts counterpart senior Scott Greenwood made just one save in 90 minutes.

Junior midfielder Tyler Kulcsar, senior midfielder Kevin Lawson and first-year midfielder/defender Zachary Trevorrow all shot on Safian within the first half. A minute before the half, Bowdoin first-year Ely Spencer beat Greenwood to get on the scoreboard for Bowdoin.

From there, the Jumbos played catch-up. They started the second half with three at the back rather than the usual four in order to put more bodies in the box to score. Although this resulted in 13 shots and four corner kicks in the second half, none of these opportunities panned out. With five minutes remaining, Spencer capitalized on a fast-break situation and scored again for the Polar Bears. Although this happened as a result of a sparser defense, the change in formation was necessary for the Jumbos, as they needed to increase their chances of equalizing.

In the last 11 seconds of the game junior midfielder Christian Zazzali netted his second goal of the season off an assist from junior midfielder Kevin Halliday. Kevin Halliday now leads the team in assists this season with four, having had the opportunity to take many of the corners and free-kicks this season.

“Some of it is right place, right time, I get to play a position where I get into spots for assists,” Kevin Halliday said. “But also I get to take a lot of the free kicks, which helps you rack up a lot of assists when it’s actually a lot of the other guys doing the hard work.”

No doubt the team was disappointed by the loss to end the season; it cost the Jumbos their 7-game unbeaten streak, the last five of which were wins. The Jumbos remain likely to face the Polar Bears again in the postseason, providing an opportunity to bounce back from the defeat.

“Our defense was solid the whole game, except for a couple lapses. But our offense really should have scored,” said Kevin Halliday. “We created a lot of chances and we had a lot of the ball, but we didn’t put the game away when we could have and we didn’t do what we needed to do to finish the game when we should have.”

During Tufts Senior Weekend and the team’s final home game of the regular season, Tufts overcame third-in-the-NESCAC Williams to extend its win streak to four, the longest of the season thus far. In the seventh minute, senior forward Gaston Becherano scored to add an 11th goal to his team-leading season tally, equaling senior co-captain Nate Majumder’s scoring record last season. It was Becherano’s sixth game-winning goal of the season, also a team-high.

The Jumbos managed to maintain their slim lead for the remainder of the game, as Greenwood made three saves. The win secured Tufts 2nd place in the NESCAC, ensuring Williams could not make up ground in the standings.

Tufts overcame the Keene State Owls on Oct. 19 in its first victory of the season that was not a clean sheet, but was also its win by the largest margin so far. Tufts took 33 shots to Keene State’s 11 and had seven corner kick opportunities while Keene State had none. Notably, 22 out of the 25 members of Tufts’ squad saw playing time in the game. Senior co-captain Zach Halliday rested in order to give his hamstring a chance to recover.

In the first 20 minutes, the Jumbos had several opportunities to score, but each time a few too many touches were taken, allowing the Owls’ defenders to get into better positions to defend. However, in the 23rd minute Owls junior goalkeeper Jason Smith came out of the goal to challenge Becherano, but Becherano was able to slide the ball to Kevin Halliday. Halliday had the wide-open goal in front of him and it was an easy task to put the ball in the net. Minutes later sophomore midfielder Sterling Weatherbie sent a perfect curling cross into the box where first-year midfielder/forward Gavin Tasker was waiting, unmarked, to head the ball in.

In the 39th minute, Keene State won a free kick, and senior midfielder Conor Leahy headed the ball past Greenwood from short range.

In the second half the Jumbos came out even more aggressively. In just six minutes the Jumbos got on the score sheet again when a shot by junior midfielder Dexter Eichhorst rebounded from the keeper and Becherano picked it out of the air to find the left side of the net for his tenth goal of the season.

Lawson took a corner kick ten minutes later that connected with junior defender Conor Coleman, who headed the ball into the bottom left corner. Finally, Majumder made it 5-1 by beating three defenders and putting the ball into the bottom right corner.

“At halftime we said that we needed to kick things up and get more aggressive in their third,” Kulcsar said. “Once we got the third goal and went up 3-1 everyone gained some confidence. One thing led to another and eventually we kept racking them up. Momentum definitely played a role.”

Tufts plays its NESCAC tournament quarter final game at home this Saturday against either Conn. College or Bowdoin in what will be Tufts’ last home game of the season. No. 1 seed Amherst will host the remainder of the NESCAC tournament. Now at 9-4-2 overall, this season was a testament to the hard work that was put in over the past two months. As the playoffs begin, the Jumbos will need to carry over the momentum they built during the second half of the season in order to make a deep run in the NESCAC tournament.